Skip to main content

The silver hand.


Doctor Who
The Moonbase: Episode One



So Troughton’s had a pretty good run so far, and you’d have thought his status would only be cemented by the reintroduction of the foe his previous incarnation encountered at the South Pole. Which it was… at the time. The Moonbase was the highest rated of his stories (every episode attracted more than 8 million viewers, still significantly less than Hartnell at his peak) and introduced the most iconic design of the Cybermen. It also reinforced the template for Season Five (by using the one set by The Tenth Planet). Troughton’s Doctor also seems tempered, his zaniness and anarchic tangents giving way to a more stable, defined leadership role.

Better prepare for coffee-making, Poll.

Give Gerry Davis his due, I rated the novelisation highly when as a kid. It was one of the first I bought and it had that evocative, mythic (and inaccurate) prologue on the origins of the Cybermen. And Jamie’s delirium over the Phantom Piper was quite effective. Listening to the audio version a year or two back, I was less impressed by it (Nick Briggs’s Cybervocals definitely didn’t help). Perhaps because the shortcomings of the screen version, and the plot holes you could fly a Cybersaucer through, were foremost in my mind. Kit Pedler may have been a go-to source for brainstorming sci-fi concepts, but he was rubbish at narrative coherence. And at any attempt at characterisation beyond crude stereotypes. And I don’t get the impression his science was all that up to scratch either…

Quilted spacesuits were all the rage in the summer of ’70.

The opening sequence of the arrival on the Moon is fairly leisurely, but manages to abruptly shunt Jamie out of the frame (he’s the Nyssa of this season) with a knock on the noggin when he leaps over a crater. His “We’ll maybe meet the Old Man of the Moon” is quite sweet, and it’s at least in character.

Unlike Ben, who is already proving that his intelligence and knowledge increases dramatically whenever Pedler gets a sniff of him (in The Tenth Planet there’s always the excuse that he was filling in for a partly absent Hartnell; not so here). He comments that the Doctor has landed “only 200 million miles out” from where he planned to take them.

It seems the Doctor has four spacesuits in his chest. The spacesuits themselves aren’t too bad a design; the helmets at least are quite original. And the larks on wires approximating the low gravity of the Moon surface are quite ambitious. Perhaps NASA was taking notes of where this was less than successful when they faked the Moon landing footage. In the model shots, the Cybersaucer looks ridiculously close to the TARDIS.

Exhibit A: don’t-give-a shit-model work.

With the injured Jamie taken into the Moonbase, it isn’t long before the rest of the companions follow. It’s around this point that the shortcomings of the setting start to become noticeable. The base reminds me a bit of those scaled down Star Wars toys, where about three figures could fit in the Millennium Falcon.

Filthy Frenchmen!

About as convincing is the array of characters we are introduced to. The Lloyd era’s nod to a multicultural future is rather backhanded, as every nationality turns out to be a cliché. Andre Maranne’s Benoit is so French he wears a cravat while Nils is “our mad Dane”. Benoit, being a filthy Frenchman, starts ogling Polly as soon as she walks in. Patrick Barr’s Hobson has a nicely line in weary authority (this quickly wears thin), but his character will be all-too prevalent in this era, at any base or controlled environment where the Doctor fetches up (and there are quite a number).

Too much coffee will be the death of you.

The inanity of the infection afflicting the crew will only become more acute as the story progresses, but no one seems overly panicked that men are being covered in great spidery veins. Because Dr. Evans was the first to fall ill, the rest (all scientists) seem at a loss when it comes to looking into the cause. It’s evident that this hasn’t been going on for long; Hobson refers to three men falling ill in the last few hours. There seems to be a complete lack of procedure or rigour in dealing with it.

So it’s lucky that the Doctor arrives. Hobson is far more welcoming than General Cutler was. There’s no suspicion of the Doctor voiced, which is unusual, and one can only assume from the conversation that Earth has colonies elsewhere and that non-government space travel is in operation. As we’d expect by now, the Doctor quickly identifies the purpose of the base and the general period (he guesses 2050).

Hobson: We’ve got a proper Rip Van Winkle here. It’s 2070 in case you’d like to know.

I don’t think the previous Doctor would have been accused of being a smelly old tramp, but that’s effectively what Hobson comes out with when he tells the Doctor and Ben that “You could do with an extra bacteria check by the look of you.

More magnificent model work.

I supposethe introduction of the purpose of the base is fairly well handled, and the idea of a weather control station isn’t a bad one (so good they’ll used it twice). The idea of a crew who have to man it round the clock, through fatigue or illness, is believable too, suggesting air traffic controllers. And Pedler has thought about logistics enough to have the Doctor explain a dimming of the lights as an artificially created day/night cycle. But the presentation is mostly amateur, as if it’s been constructed in a less than watertight manner because, after all, this is just for kids. They’ve got a scary monster to reveal, who cares if the characters are silly and the plot makes no sense? All anyone will remember is the monster.

That’s our mad Dane, bottom left.

So elements are introduced with no thought for how characters should really respond. First the illness, then the news that the base’s transmissions are being monitored (our first sign of a redesigned Cyberarm). As such, the dialogue has an eye on the audience. Nils comments, “Monitored by someone. Or something” with no particular reason to assume that there’s a “thing” out there.  There’s also the reference to “momentary drops in air pressure” but it will be more fun to discuss that in a future episode.

The Doctor gets to investigate the cause of the illness, which he quickly realises is not all that it seems.

The Doctor: It’s not like a real disease at all. It’s almost as if…

Polly is called on to play nurse and to scream. Her comment, “It can’t be nice to him” regarding the electronic doctor attending to Jamie is about as much insight as she’s allowed. Ben gets to ask Hobson (who seems to take an instant dislike to him) if there’s anything he can do and is asked to clear up coffee cups and help in the food store. Of course, Polly will be on coffee duty before long but rather than suggesting an Alienesque lived-in future the domestic needs tend to render everything rather twee and silly.

I’m about to expire but first I’ll leave you a cryptic clue.

The most effective moments come from the menacing Cyberman in the base. Lurking behind the Debayo in the food store, it is suggested by shadow and an arm, rather than a full reveal. Likewise, when we see Jamie tossing restlessly as the Phantom Piper nears him at the cliffhanger. The monsters of the era seem to consciously attract more mythic trappings (later re-emphasised with the mummy-esque tombs, the Yeti), and this is one such example, with Jamie seeing technology as a supernatural force come to get him. Unfortunately, this is framed by ridiculous plotting for the story as a whole. The previously unconscious Evans rouses long enough to utter “The silver hand” as if he’s an extra from a Hammer Horror. Only to then pass out (or die? Are they effectively reanimated corpses?)

So what’s in the bag? Shredded paper? Hay? Polystyrene balls?

Polly very nearly sees a Cyberman (“Something just went out of that door”), but who knows what she was doing when it replaced the doctor’s body with a bale of hay. That may have been while she was asleep, to be fair, but the tiny sickbay with no corners to hide in undermines the idea of a Cyberman roaming about bodysnatching; it beggars belief that he would not be chanced upon at any moment. Does the Cyberman think that sticking something under the covers is a good idea anyway? Won’t that just spell out that foul play is involved (do they think people will decide that the doctor recovered, went for a stroll and didn’t want anyone to know?) What’s the deal with the stealth infiltration anyway? If a Cyberman is on the base he could probably take out 19 crewmen with ease.

Likewise, Hobson deciding that the companions are responsible for the absent doctor is ludicrously overstated. He should be in Scooby Doo.

Hobson: And you better find that doctor’s body or out you all go, quarantine or no quarantine.

Basically, this has become very silly before the end of the first episode. It seems all the more so because it’s taking itself so seriously.

Of course, the silver hand!

The cliffhanger underlines that this Cyberman is dicing with discovery. The Doctor pops out for a minute. Polly nips off to get Jamie some water. One of them might return at any moment. So the Cyberman lumbers in to grab Jamie. Silly Cyberman.


I toyed with giving this ***, but it’s so ham-fisted it doesn’t deserve it. The appearance of the Cyberman at the cliffhanger is worth the wait, as the redesign packs a punch that the Mondasians didn’t (that’s not to say they aren’t good in their own way, but they aren’t iconic), but the script is neither carefully constructed nor logically thought through. 

And, while Morris Barry’s direction is intermittently decent (the limited presentation of the Cybermen), he works against believability by shooting cramped sets as cramped sets (it seems that a character can only see as far as the frame allows; anything outside of it may as well be another location). It’s left to The Tenth Planet stock music to build up atmosphere. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

One day you will speak and the jungle will listen.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
(SPOILERS) The unloved and neglected Jungle Book movie that wasn't Disney’s, Jungle Book: Origins was originally pegged for a 2016 release, before being pushed to last year, then this, and then offloaded by Warner Bros onto Netflix. During which time the title changed to Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book, then Mowgli, and finally Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The assumption is usually that the loser out of vying projects – and going from competing with a near $1bn grossing box office titan to effectively straight-to-video is the definition of a loser – is by its nature inferior, but Andy Serkis' movie is a much more interesting, nuanced affair than the Disney flick, which tried to serve too many masters and floundered with a finale that saw Mowgli celebrated for scorching the jungle. And yes, it’s darker too. But not grimdarker.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

Don’t you break into like, a billion homes a year?

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
(SPOILERS) Tis the season to be schmaltzy. Except, perhaps not as insufferably so as you might think. The Christmas Chronicles feels very much like a John Hughes production, which is appropriate since it's produced by Chris Columbus, who was given his start as a director by Hughes. Think Uncle Buck, but instead of John Candy improving his nieces and nephew's lives, you've got Kurt Russell's Santa Claus bringing good cheer to the kids of the Pierce household. The latter are an indifferent duo, but they key here is Santa, and Russell brings the movie that all important irrepressible spark and then some.

A steed is not praised for its might, but for its thoroughbred qualities.

The Avengers Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

You counselled him and then he shot himself.

First Reformed (2017)
(SPOILERS) This uneven at best Roman Catholic – I know, it concerns a protestant church, but who are we trying to kid? – eco-guilt picture from Paul Schrader that has been hailed as his best in years, which it probably is, but these things are relative. Schrader has made, for the first hour or so, an engrossing study of faith, doubt and despair, but his choices after that, particularly during the last half hour, undo much of the effort.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…